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James Martin

Location: Hutto, TX
Joined: 12 Jul 2006

Posts: 26

PostPosted: Tue 06 Jul, 2010 1:49 pm    Post subject: What level of customization was there in medieval archery?         Reply with quote

Been doing a little browsing on the interwebs on longbows and a question came to me. I was thinking in particular of the English longbowmen as they went to war. I was reading that Englishmen had to practice archery by law, that they grew up shooting longbows they're whole life. So in that case they should have had their own bows and arrows correct? So would they take those with them to war or were they issued a warbow? If they were issued a warbow would a warbow just be an item that was churned out as fast as possible assembly line style or was there more attention given to them? I would think if they were mass produced then no attention would be paid to custom tillering for weight or draw length/arrpw length for each individual? In that case did that mean medieval longbowmen just learned to shot a longer-one-size-fits-all arrow that would fit everybody's draw length? Wouldnt that affect accuracy? Or perhaps that wasnt an issue since from what Ive seen they just wind up pointing the bow up and lobbing arrows en masse. Or perhaps the very notion of draw lengths, arrow lengths, and bow weights modern archery concepts all together and would have no place in medieval times.

Sorry for all the questions. But it was just something that Ive been mulling over in my head. Ive only read a little bit about medival archery and as they say, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Im sorry if some of these are "duh" questions or been covered before.
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Jared Smith

Location: Tennessee
Joined: 10 Feb 2005
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PostPosted: Tue 06 Jul, 2010 2:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Bowyer's Bible discusses a little about this. Tillering of the bow, and arrow draw length were historically adjusted or selected to fit individuals. Accomplished bowmen were considered capable of shaping their own stave into a good bow according to that reference. That said, arrows, varying styles of points, and unfinished staves were mass produced for battle. (Some records of inventories indicated things like stores of 100,000 arrows.) I don't know how the logistics of battlefield distribution were handled, but there had to be a system, or else it would have had to be limited to participants of average build. The participants are considered to have trained since youth, which implies necessity of differing equipment at least for off of the battlefield cases in my opinion.

The test methodology in this article will be criticized, but it remains fact that many arrowheads recovered from the Battle of Wisby came from within buried skulls. The references for range of draw length, and some head types are pretty good actually.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Philip Montgomery

Location: Houston
Joined: 29 May 2008
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PostPosted: Wed 07 Jul, 2010 2:05 pm    Post subject: Re: What level of customization was there in medieval archer         Reply with quote

James Martin wrote:
Been doing a little browsing on the interwebs on longbows and a question came to me. I was thinking in particular of the English longbowmen as they went to war.

Hi James. I recommend that you find a copy of "The Great War Bow: From Hastings to the Mary Rose" by Matthew Strickland and Robert Hardy. It is hard to find and a bit expensive, but if you can find a copy on Amazon or in your local library (especially an academic library) you will find it well worth the read. It will answer all the questions you have about the longbowman in England.

Philip Montgomery
"A broken sword blade fwipping through the air like a scythe through rye does demand attention."
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Lafayette C Curtis

Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Sun 11 Jul, 2010 7:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't know that much about English longbowmen's commissariat practices, but in some Eastern archery cultures (most notably the Chinese) there's some evidence that archers could get both mass-produced arrows of a standard length (too long for the vast majority of archers) and individually-fitted arrows. This was especially true of elite troops, and most of all of the heavy cavalry--which was mostly made up of people who could afford a lot more armor than usual for both man and horse anyway, so it's not surprising that they could buy specialized arrows in order to supplement the standard commissariat supply. This practice is quite common throughout military history, at least in cultures where there's enough economic demand and supply that high-end custom military craftsmen could make a living alongside (or in partnership with) lower-quality, higher-capacity producers of the same item. Even today, the richer sort of military officers can still use money from their own pockets to get better-tailored uniforms and certain customizations (within the limits of military standards) to their weapons and battlefield kits.

It's worth noting that even in the East, with static-recurve composite bows so complex that not all archers could be expected to make their own, the archer was still required to have at least some basic knowledge about tuning and fiddling around with the bow, especially with regards to straightening a twisted bow and balancing the curves and the weights across the two (often asymmetrical) limbs. And of course every archer could be expected to know at least the theory on how to make an arrow, though not all of them might not have been skilled enough to put it in practice since barrelled arrows (thicker in the middle than at the ends) were common in some places and cutting these down requires a rather fine sense of balance. In England, where the construction of bows and arrows was (at least theoretically) simpler, I don't think it'd be unreasonable to expect many archers to know how to do minor customizations to a bowstave they received from the commissariat (likely as a replacement for a broken/worn-out bow) and to cut down their arrows to a more appropriate length when they had the time to do so.

If I had been a longbowman back then, I would probably have come to the muster with my own bow and some arrows--I would have needed them in the first place just to get a place as an archer in the next contingent shipping for France. Some of these arrows I brought from home would have been ones customized to suit my stature and shooting style. Along the course of the campaign I would probably have been issued some standard arrows from the army's or company's pool, and I would have cut these down to length if I had enough free time to do so before the next encounter with the enemy. When an engagement happens, I would have shot off the commissariat arrows first (regardless of whether they had been cut down or not) and hoarded my own (well, at least the better-performing ones) for situations where I'd need better accuracy (especially at shorter ranges) or I was really out of general-issue arrows (sh*t happened with arrow resupplies--a lot). I would have been able to ask for a replacement bowstave if my original bow broke or wore out; depending on the terms of my contract, I might have been able to get this replacement for free (since the employer was hiring me and my equipment) or I might have had to pay for it (you know, those quartermasters!). But that's just how I view the situation from what I remember of my readings of Hardy and Anne Curry and a big dose of my own imagination, so take it with a whole spoonful of salt.
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